There’s an ingrained balance that’s inherent in certain type of heavy music; grunge was one of the first genres to tap into it but it can be seen in countless of examples even after grunge had passed from the public’s eye. This balance is created by a dominant bass guitar, a fuzzy yet solid guitar and a vocalist with emotional delivery. The drums play certain role but mainly with the kick drum, providing a certain deep, pulsing heartbeat to the concoction. You can find this sound in Soundgarden‘s early works for example or some of the darker Porcupine Tree tracks. But what if a band were to utilize that vibe but instead of swinging upwards from it, to more brighter places as bands usually do, they would use it as a launching point for something even darker? Some tracks would be contemplative and emotional rock but others would delve into the realms of dark electronic, noise and drone.
Lo and behold, we have created Obsidian Kingdom. “A Year With No Summer” is an excellent example of the approach we outlined above. It swerves between moments of familiar, straightforward and sleek dark rock and phrases of deep drum and bass, static wailing and psychedelic electronics. Interestingly enough, some tracks accomplish both at the same time. Take “The Kandinsky Group” for example. It’s a ten minute and a half track which opens with a lot of bass static and synths. Over them hovers an eerie whisper, completing the atmosphere of brooding, urban horror. This goes on for nearly three minutes before the drums pick up a steady beat, the bass, ever so dominant and present, joins them and the vocals kick in. The expansive ambiance has been condensed into a more “traditional” song format without losing any of its power. It still maintains a say in things though as, after passing through a heavier crucible in the center, the song returns to a more scattered form, this time heralded by a feedback laden guitar.
This then describes the general, basic tension of the album as we outlined above. For those of you who crave each element separately, the band have prepared an answer in the form of the different tracks on the album, each one (nearly) choosing a side. For example, “April 10th” also beings with a narration (somewhat Riverside in its qualities) but then spends the rest of its run-time exploring darker passages between synths, thick drums and resounding guitar. The self-titled album opener is the opposite; it’s a straight up, no frills, dark rock track. Within this division perhaps lies the album’s main disadvantage. Where the elements meet, like on “The Kandinsky Group” or closer “Away Absent”, is where the band is at their most interesting. The balance is well struck and creates interesting vibes.
However, for most of the album, they’ve decided to keep them separate, if not completely. Like water and oil, there’s a slight, way too thin, common ground that separates the two elements. We’ve spoken about this in the past: albums that mix two elements of sound often benefit not from a segregated approach which often feels artificial and reins the music back but from a heady, bewildering and well executed melange. Where Obsidian Kingdom manage to pull that off, “A Year With No Summer” is a fantastically dark and challenging album. But slightly too often, the roles are delegated their spaces and cordoned off from each other. It’s still an album which has weight behind its punches and when it goes full speed, it’s damn good. It delivers darkness, emotion and rocky sentiments with poise but its choreography prevents it from taking full flight.